Sunday, January 31, 2010

Some Controversial Ramblings and a Pretty Decent Book on Drawing

I'll warn you in advance: this post contains a lot of personal opinions about a subject that's very sensitive to many, many people:

comic books.

So read at your own risk, and please don't feel the need to e-mail me and tell me what an ignorant idiot I am and how wrong my opinions are. Because I never claimed otherwise...

When I was a kid, I never really got into superhero comics, or drawing, for that matter, so I never picked up the instructional book "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way." I've always heard people talk about what a great book it was, and I was always curious, but I never picked it up. I put it on my "Amazon Wish List" years ago, and lo and behold, somebody bought it for me for Christmas this year.

I sat down and read it immediately. It turns out, everybody was right - it's a pretty interesting read. Especially if you're just starting out as an artist, this book could be a really helpful resource (and that's who its intended for, after all).

I never found the drawings in superhero comics very appealing, or expressive (for the most part), and I think that's why I was more interested in Disney and Warner Brothers comics when I was a kid. This page explains a big part of why that's the case: according to this book, superheroes are always drawn eight heads tall. I never really realized that before (told you I was an idiot).

The fact that the heads become so small in relation to the body definitely makes them seem less expressive, and, just as a matter of personal taste, I always think that slightly bigger heads and facial features always make for a more appealing design. But obviously comic books have their emphasis on other areas, and acting and appeal are not always their top priority - it seems to me that realism and dynamic drawing are more important in superhero comic books, all the better to make their dramatic storytelling stronger.

Instead of superhero comics, I read a lot of "Tintin" when I was a kid...Herge's characters always seem about 6-7 heads high, which is about how I find I usually draw figures. I just find those proportions appealing. It's a personal taste thing.

I always liked the clean, simple way Herge drew the world. It has a certain realism (without too much cluttered detail) because he was great with layout and perspective and clearly did a lot of research.

I think his style hits a good balance: the characters are caricatured enough to be appealing and expressive, and the world is drawn realistically enough to make the action and danger seem dramatic and exciting. Again, that's just my taste.

When I was a kid they also carried comics like "Asterix" at my local bookstore. I liked the backgrounds, I found the characters to be appealing looking and I really appreciated the draftsmanship of the whole thing, but I could never get that into it (many of the characters seem to be in the 3-5 heads tall range and maybe I have a weird obsession where I only like them in the 6-7 head range unless they're ducks or other anthropomorphic animals!). Also, I'm not a big fan of the "giant nose" school of cartooning. Probably, more than anything, it was the writing and the stories that turned me off. I couldn't stand all the constant puns and wordplay (I find that stuff tedious, not really character specific as writing, and it seems to me that that kind of stuff always slows down the story - again, a personal taste thing) and it's also hard to root for a group of guys who can whip up a magical potion to get out of any jam. I usually felt more sympathy for the hapless soldiers and pirates they beat up on their adventures than I did for Asterix and Obelix.

Really love the way those guys draw horses. Great proportions!

I don't really have a point in writing all of this, and I especially don't want to sound like I don't appreciate how amazing DC and Marvel artists were (or Goscinny or Underzo or any other comic artist). For some reason I just never really got into the DC or Marvel comics, but I was never sure why. After all, most of the people I have known who in my life who were artists and in my age group loved comics. So over the years, I've felt guilty and ashamed for not liking superhero comics, or like I was missing out on something that everybody else loved because I was too stupid to get it.

The closest I came to get into traditional comics was that I went through a period in my high school and college years where I was really into Will Eisner's stuff. Also, around that time, the graphic novels "The Dark Knight" and "Electra: Assassin" came out and totally blew my mind. Both of them seemed to transcend the comic form and reading both of them is like reading a great novel and watching a fantastic movie rolled into one.

Anyway, here's another cool spread from "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way". The page on the right shows a drawing of each pose, and then, next to it is the same pose, drawn more dynamically.

The book devotes a good amount of space to drawing pretty girls which is always a tricky proposition. This is a good page describing some "do's and dont's" of drawing women's faces.

The book was written in the 70's by Stan Lee, who is pretty notorious for his cheesy writing style...but the book doesn't suffer for it. Everything is clear and well-explained.

Mostly, the emphasis of the book is on (as you might guess) drawing figures, using perspective and foreshortening, staging things in a dynamic way and the proper way to use pens, ink and brushes (it hasn't been updated since 1978). If you're one of those people (like me) who is always on the lookout for a good basic drawing book, or you know a young person that wants to learn how to draw in a comic book style or just wants to learn more about drawing, it's a pretty good investment at just $12.00 on Amazon.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Help the Hodges

It's been mentioned everywhere else already, but in case anyone missed it, please visit to learn about the effort to raise money for animation artist Tim Hodge's family.

A whole new batch of artwork from animation's best artists just went on auction.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dumbo: Contrast

Just another short post to illustrate the effectiveness of using contrast.

This is a story sketch from Dumbo I scanned from the Disney Archives book "Story".

There are a couple of contrasts in the drawing that elevate it from just a serviceable story sketch to being an effective picture all on its own. The gesture line of the elephant is a strong direct line that gives the push against the cage a lot of force. The gesture of the tiger pushing back against the direction of the elephant's gesture gives more power to the elephant's push by contrast. It's like when you paint two contrasting colors next to each other - they both become more vibrant through contrast.

Also the contrast between the two animal's attitudes works well to strengthen the picture. The intense strain on the elephant's face is made much stronger by the contrast of the lazy, satisfied-looking expression on the tiger's face. Also, it seems to me that the tiger's paw, the wheel and the elephant's knee do a good job of creating a good composition and keeping your eye centered around that area of their expressions.

I redrew the picture without the tiger to show how much is lost when the tiger is removed. The force of the elephant is diminished and the circus cart looks a lot less heavy and easier to push (the original is right below it for comparison).

Also, the composition is seriously hurt by the absence of the tiger. Without the tiger there, there's no element to keep your eye from wandering aimlessly around on the right side of the frame. The tiger helped to make it a "closed circuit" with a clear circular path for your eye to follow.

The purpose of any story sketch is to tell the story clearly, and an individual sketch doesn't need to be a great piece of art - it only needs to work with all the other sketches to tell the story in the best way possible. But I like how the addition of a little contrast helps make this a great picture, even when seen all by itself.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

What's Worth Fighting For?

Robert Edsel has written a book called "The Monuments Men", which is a pretty fascinating piece of history.

As Hitler's armies invaded most of Western Europe, they collected many important paintings an sculptures and sent them back to Germany while destroying works of art that Hitler deemed "inferior". One of Hitler's biggest ambitions was to build a massive museum in Germany that would house all of the greatest art that Europe had to offer.

After the Allies landed in France and the German army was forced to retreat back towards Berlin, a group of American, British and Canadian art historians and conservationists (known as the "Monuments Men") arrived in Europe to try and catalog what was left of the art there as well as protect important architecture and landmarks from further damage by advancing (or retreating) forces.

An excerpt:

The chateau of Compte de Germigny had been set ablaze by Allied bombers. As he approached, Rorimer could see the shards of wall, blackened on the edges, sticking up like enormous shoulders of stone.In their shadow, a bulldozer was backing, preparing to knock down one of the last nearly complete walls. It was common practice to knock down damaged walls; the army used the stone as base material for roads. But this chateau was on the protected monuments list, and this particular wall was part of the chateau's private chapel. On the back side, Rorimer noticed two large eighteenth-century statues.

"Stop the Bulldozer," he yelled at the startled engineer, who no doubt had spent the last few days knocking down other walls at the damaged chateau. "This is a historic home." He held up his list of protected monuments. "It is not to be destroyed."

A few minutes later, the commanding officer came stomping through the rubble. "What's the trouble here...Second Lieutenant." The mention of Rorimer's rank, the lowest commissioned-officer rank in the army, was intentional. The Monuments Men had no authority to give orders; their role was purely advisory, and this officer knew it.

"This is a historic monument, sir. It's not to be damaged."

The officer looked at the broken wall and fragments of stone. "The flyboys should have thought of that."

"It's private property, sir. It must be respected."

The officer buttonholed the junior man - junior in rank, at least, if not in age. "We have a war to win here, Lieutenant. My job in that war is to see that this road gets through."

The officer turned to leave. In his mind, the conversation was over, but James Rorimer was a bulldog: short, squarely built, and not afraid of a challenge. Through persistence and hard work he had advanced to the highest levels of the Metropolitan Museum , America's greatest cultural institution, in less than ten years. He had that potent mixture of ambition and belief: in himself and in his mission. He had no practice in failure, and he had no intention of starting now.

"I've photographed this wall for an official report."

The officer stopped and turned around. The cheek of this bastard. Who did he think he was? Rorimer held out a copy of Eisenhower's proclamation on monuments and war. "Only in the event of necessity, sir. Supreme Commander's orders. Do you want to spend the rest of your tour explaining why this demolition was a military necessity, not a convenience?"

The officer stared the little man in the eye. He looked a soldier, but damned if he didn't act like a fool. Didn't this screwball know there was a war on? But he could see, just looking at James Rorimer, that it was no use. "Okay," the officer grumbled, signaling the bulldozer back from the wall, "but this is a helluva way to fight a war."

Rorimer thought about the abbey of St. Sauveur-le-Vicomte, where he had found American GIs feeding children out of their rations. The soldiers had been camped out in the rain, ordered out of the monk's warm, dry beds by a combat general who understood the historic and cultural value of the abbey. That general probably wasn't too popular with the troops, but Rorimer knew it was men like that who won the respect of the French.

"I disagree, sir," Rorimer said the the officer at Compte de Germingny. "I think this is exactly the way to fight a war."

I enjoyed this passage, which illustrates a common theme in the book. From the Army's point of view, no soldier's life should be put at risk just to preserve a famous work of art, and no advance should be halted because it endangers a historic building. But the other side of the coin is this: if we don't fight to preserve our culture and history, then what, exactly, are we fighting for? If the Allies had wantonly destroyed works of art out of convenience, could they really claim a moral superiority over Hitler, who destroyed artwork because he didn't like it?

Thursday, January 07, 2010

FAC/Composing Pictures Update

Okay, so suffice to say that after some confusion and turmoil, Dan Caylor has removed the Famous Artist Course pdfs from his blog, not realizing (as I never did) that they were still in business and still using the material that was published decades ago.

He's also removed the "Composing Pictures" pdf from his site. Shoki pointed out that Amazon seems to think that the book will be reprinted in February, which would be a nice surprise.

A big thanks anyway to Dan for doing all of that work with the best of intentions.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Famous Artist Course

I have been contacted by the current owners of the "Famous Artist Course" and they have asked me to remove my link to Dan Caylor's blog because they own the copyright to the material, and they are planning on launching a new program soon that they say will incorporate some of the older material. Their website can be found here.

Composing Pictures pdf

Dan Caylor has posted all of Don Graham's wonderful (and long out-of-print) book "Composing Pictures". It can be downloaded in pdf form here.